EGU2020-1260, updated on 12 Jun 2020
EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Making ethics codes more effective

Jan Boon
Jan Boon
  • FaciliTech International, Ottawa, Canada (

Many businesses and organizations of all types have adopted ethics codes or codes of conduct. Examples relevant to geoscience include the Cape Town Statement on Geoethics of the International Association for Promoting Geoethics,  the Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics policy of the American Geophysical Union, and the Joint EGU-AGU Statement of principles for a  code of ethics for the geosciences. The Government of Canada is implementing a Science Integrity Policy across its science-related Departments. Successful implementation of such policies can be challenging and many breaches have been and continue to be reported. Humans make ethical or unethical decisions and understanding the sociological processes that are involved and applying this knowledge to the implementation of ethics codes may improve their success rates. This paper analyzes these sociological processes through the lens of symbolic interactionism theory. In spite of its somewhat forbidding name, the theory is actually quite simple. It shows how interactions between people lead to the meanings they give to other people, organizations and things. It describes how these meanings lead to the interpretation of situations, and how groups arrive at normative decisions based on this interpretation. These normative decisions involve ethical considerations. The paper describes the approach and seeks audience feedback on a proposed survey of the members of the International Association for Promoting Geoethics  to collect empirical evidence on which to base a symbolic interactionist approach to effective implementation of ethics codes in geoscience.

How to cite: Boon, J.: Making ethics codes more effective, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-1260,, 2019


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displays version 1 – uploaded on 28 Apr 2020
  • CC1: Comment on EGU2020-1260, Martin Bohle, 02 May 2020

    I like the study programme. However, I do not understand the process diagram (see below). The diagram shows the process cycle (suite of green boxes) and the 'influencer' (red blob) at the same level, connected by the same kind of arrows. From the presentation, I seem to understand that 'influencer' shapes some of the processes. So I would expect that it is kind of operator within the green boxes and that the 'red blob action' is driven by the reference communities. Please advice.

    • AC1: Reply to CC1, Jan Boon (deceased), 04 May 2020

      Hi Martin,

      I have tried to reply from my tablet seven times and it does not work. Luckily it seems to work on my laptop. Maybe I should have used arrows of a different colour, or just linjs without an arrow. I  wanted to indicate that relationships and interactions are part of each step in the overall process. I would not call them "influencers" as they are not agents. The reference communities, while not being purposeful agents, influence the decision making process.


      My apologies for the delay in replying - I did nnot have access to my laptop 


  • CC2: Comment on EGU2020-1260, Martin Bohle, 04 May 2020

    Thank you Jan - so I undertood the description. - Martin

    p.s. We will leran how to  struggle with this tool. 

  • CC3: Comment on EGU2020-1260, Giuseppe Di Capua, 06 May 2020

    Thank you Jan, I like always very much your approach to create links between sociology, geosciences, professional ethics, geoethics. You put in practice clarly what you write: creating relationships to cooperate with the goal to make something better. I would like to know if processes in your scheme are influenced only by reference communities (so groups), or also by single individuals. I may suspect that Influencers, trend-setters, and strong leaderships could drive changing processes faster than continuing interactions among stakeholders. Are they considered another reference community?

    • AC2: Reply to CC3, Jan Boon (deceased), 07 May 2020

      Giuseppe, thank you for your interest in the symbolic interactionist approach. In answer to your questions, rerence communities "supply" the norms against which to weigh the various options for action. Interactions and relationships are at the centre of all processes, for which reason creating a safe dialogue space and working hard at establishing and maintaining productive relationships is so important. In the example I presented last year (if I remember correctly) I showed that interactions and relationships between a few "community outliers" and tother members of the community in the Fruta del Norte case led to a change in the meaning the community gave to the mineral exploration project. The change of meaning led to a different interpretattion of the situation and the consisderation of different option, one of which was to support the project

  • CC4: Comment on EGU2020-1260, Eduardo Marone, 06 May 2020

    Hi Jan,

    Could I ask you to check my presentation I uploaded only yesterday?

    I would appreciate any comments because of your presentation here and your expertise. Thanks. Eduardo

  • CC5: Comment on EGU2020-1260, Sadredin Moosavi, 07 May 2020

    Dear Dr. Boon,
    Thank you for your excellent presentation on GeoEthics. I have several questions.
    1. Your system of ethics from voluntary (clubs and civic organizations) to mandatory (state government level) appears somewhat different from what one sees in the United States, at least as far as I understand your diagram. In the United States...with its federal constitutional system, we have a hierarchy of authority, including in ethics, where local codes of conduct are superceded by state level codes, which are superceded by federal codes except where the federal constitution specifically assigns authority to lower/local levels of authority. So...for example...while a community organization can pass a code of conduct for its members, any conflicts between that code and the rights/responsibilities ascribed by the higher authority renders the local code moot. A private organization could pass a code of conduct that favors one particular ethnic group over another, but this code would be unlawful and unenforceable given the federal legal code, which forbids racial discrimination. Given this hierarchy, are not the codes of professional societies such as GSA/AGU and EGU not subordinate to the national laws of the USA and EU/EU Members states respectively?
    2. In your presentation you cited AGU as an example of a "voluntary" organization. Is that an accurate depiction of professional societies where a small number of national/international societies exist in each profession thus giving them near monopoly powers over conference presentations, networking and professional development in their respective fields? Would it not be more accurate to describe AGU, GSA and EGU as more akin to utilities or the European national rail systems which, by their monopoly position, must be required to be open to all in society with codes of conduct that match the national consensus on conduct if they are to retain that privileged position?
    3. The AGU and GSA Code of Conducts' procedures for adjudicating alleged violations of their codes both violate American federal law in that they deny constitutional protections for the accused requiring the right to cross examine one's accuser and to be judged in a public trial by a jury of their peers using a standard of evidence set at the "beyond a reasonable doubt” level of proof. The U.S. Department of Education released just yesterday (May 6, 2020) new guidelines affirming these constitutional protections resting on U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the last 50 years since Title IX was passed. Given these developments, are not the AGU and GSA Codes of Conduct by definition unethical and unenforceable on the membership of these organizations no matter how well intended their efforts to protect anonymous accusers might be?
    I look forward to your responses and that of other participants in this session. Sadredin C. Moosavi

    • AC3: Reply to CC5, Jan Boon (deceased), 08 May 2020

      Dear Sandredin,

      Thank you for taking the time to outline your thoughts. I am not familiar with the US system and therefore I am not in a position to answer to your comments in any detail. As far as I understand the Canadian legal system, any organization can establish a code of conduct of ethics for its members, providing nothing in the code breaks Canadian laws. The example of discimination you mentioned would fall into that category in Canada also. When an organization becomes aware of misdemeanours, it has an ethical responsibility to act. As I understand it, AGU reacted to extensive reports of serious misdemeanors in academia that were not being addressed by any institution or agency, and they decided to face the challenge. Whether or not their code of conduct breaches US law and cannot judge, and neither am I in a position to judge the legalities of their internal approach. On the other hand, they based their action plan on extensive discussion within the organization and, if I am correct, on members' votes. We need to see how this works out. A long time ago, the second amendment to the US was adopted after much debate and a vote, a process similar to the AGU process. Processes like this may lead to unexpected consequences that may lead part of the membership to ask for a revision. Revising the AGU Code of Conduct in light of experience will not be that difficult

      • CC6: Reply to AC3, Sadredin Moosavi, 08 May 2020

        Dear Jan,

        Thank you for your reply. I agree that the details on this issue will come down to the legal codes of the societies in which our respective societies are based. You actually did answer my question so thank you. As you continue to work in this area, I encourage you to watch what is occurring in the USA. Both the GSA and AGU leaderships are about to find that their Codes of Conduct are on the wrong side of history with the courts imposing corrective action on these societies. Other professional societies in the USA are going to have the same problem, but these are the ones most relevant to an EGU discussion.

        Another area to consider as you watch the situation in the USA, and sadly the EU, is any Code of Conduct, no matter how good or bad it may be, has to applied uniformly to the members regardless of race, gender, etc. under the laws of our societies. A review of the scientific news over the last few years clearly indicates that this is NOT occurring, undermining the integrity of these professional societies. That's what my own research was going to share in this session...but I was bullied out of sharing at this time. Hopefully we can review an even larger dataset on the subject in Vienna next year.

        Thanks for all your work in ethics as it is necessary for our community to vastly increase its understanding of this aspect of its professional life!